Barista training perks back up

Reprieve brewed for an award-winning job program for at-risk Surrey youth.

Fire up the espresso press. An award-winning job training program that’s helped brew success for hundreds of at-risk youth in Surrey, Cloverdale and Langley has been saved.

New funding sources have been found to re-launch the popular Baristas program, held up as a model by the business community for giving youth a foot in the door of the labour market by helping them overcome barriers to employment.

The program was axed in March, after Surrey’s Pacific Community Resources Society learned the federal government would not renew its contract under the Skills Link employment program.

Students, staff and supporters even gathered for a final wrap-up party.

Offered through PCRS, Starbucks Coffee Canada, the program was a unique partnership between a non-profit agency, the private sector, the Surrey School District, and the federal government.

On July 16, the program resumed operations in Surrey, thanks to partial funding from two new sources: the Aboriginal Community Career Employment Society (ACCESS), which offers the BladeRunners youth employment program, and the B.C. Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation.

Staff and supporters are feeling immense relief, said Ryan Paulson, Community Engagement Coordinator for Pacific Community Services, or PCS.

“We’ve had this program since 2003,” Paulson said. “It makes such a difference for the youths who enroll.

You go to a ton of graduation ceremonies and you could see the life-altering impact. It was a shame to lose it.”

As word spread about the program’s demise last spring, “people just kind of came knocking on our door” with offers of help, Paulson said. “That led to discussions on what we could do to get it going.”

The new funding doesn’t match previous levels, so only one full-time staffer can be hired instead of two, something it’s hoped will change once additional partners come on board.

“We are actively looking for other public and private sector organizations who want to come on board and contribute to this initiative,” Kay Sarai, manager of employment and community services at PCRS, said, adding it’s a great way to give back the community.

Over the past decade, the program has helped hundreds of youth overcome serious barriers to employment, such as addiction and abuse.

Participants go through an intensive, six-week life skills program, followed by a nine-week, paid work placement at Starbucks – including locations in Cloverdale – where they are treated like any other employee and held to the same expectations.

Many successful graduates were offered jobs at Starbucks upon completion.

Paulson said the program is a solid example of how multi-sector partnerships can work: the school district provides school credit for the participants, the service agencies help deliver the program, and a corporation provides work experience and often permanent jobs for successful graduates.

It represents a second chance that many of the candidates wouldn’t otherwise receive.

“It really gives them a chance to turn things around in a critical point in their lives,” he said.